Could A Translator Have Helped Here? (Rhetorical Question Defined)


“Can’t Find on Google” (Taiwan) – From the Language Log Blog

From the Language Log Blog, by Victor Mair


googlefailCheezburger, where this menu was posted, gave it the title “Google Failed, but This Restaurant Probably Won.” Actually, Google didn’t fail.

For chǎo shuǐlián 炒水蓮, which is straightforward, Google Translate, Baidu Fanyi, Bing Translator, and even iciba correctly give “fried lotus”, so there’s no excuse for saying “I can’t find on google”.

So what’s going on here?

In the first half of the menu, aside from the zany “I can’t find on google but it’s delicious”, the other three items, although translated somewhat sloppily, are within the ball park. In the second half of the menu, simply looking at the English, you can tell that the translator was just playing games and wasn’t making a serious effort to render the names of the Chinese entries. They also were careless about the Chinese inputting.

A couple of examples:

Where they typed huāzhī quān 花芝圈 (lit., “flower fungus circle”), which they translate as “Mermaid in Deep sea”, it should probably be the homophonous huāzhī quān 花枝圈 (“squid rings; deep-fried calamari rings”).

Where they typed màikè Jíkuài 麥克吉塊 (“Mike’s lucky pieces”), which they cutely translate as “McDonald’s best friend”, it should probably be the near-homophonous màikè jīkuài 麥克雞塊 (“Mike’s chicken pieces [i.e., nuggets]”).

The other two items are of a similar goofy, slipshod quality.

How do we account for this strange combination of slapdash Chinese and hit-or-miss English? My surmise is that this menu might have been put together by Koreans or Japanese (or some other group who are not native speakers of Mandarin) in Taiwan.

First of all, the prices are in New Taiwan dollars, so this menu is from Taiwan. Second, the menu twice refers to cabbage as “Gāolí cài” 高麗菜 (“Korean vegetable”), whereas I know at least half a dozen other Chinese words for cabbage that, at least to me, are more common than “Gāolí cài” 高麗菜 (“Korean vegetable”). Third, huāzhī 花芝 (lit., “flower fungus”) doesn’t really mean anything in Mandarin, but it is at least a pronounceable name in Japanese: Hanashiba. Fourth, érzǎisū 兒仔酥 is a rare expression for a mock oyster crisp (hézǎisū 蚵仔酥) such as might be found in a vegetarian restaurant associated with Japan (see the caption to the 14th photograph here for an explanation of the name of this dish).

Or maybe the menu was made by some Taiwanese person who was lazy or tipsy, in which case there might be some interference from Taiwanese language which I haven’t been able to detect. Overall, though, this menu seems to be quite an inept way for a restaurant to present itself to the public.

“Clip for the Pitted” (Italy: We Don’t Need No Stinking Translators!)

Otherwise known as clothespins …

… but don’t try telling that to anyone who has internet access and the URL of Google Translate.

Integration in Latvia …

… but don’t even bother if you don’t speak Latvish…

Desperately seeking a qualified Latvish-to-English translator to explain the meaning of the phrase:

“Engagement in Latvia is a mutual promise to conclude a marriage … however, engagement is not an obligatory precondition for conclusion of the marriage nor the fact of engagement provides the rights to claim for conclusion of the marriage by court proceedings or in any other way.”

No, wait. Actually, I’ve decided I don’t really care.

From the Integration in Latvia site.

India … maybe this explains why they only pay translators $0.01 a word

Translation jobs are increasingly being outsourced to Indian companies, and offers of translation work (from various languages into English) at one or two cents per word have flooded the market. (Take a look at what Proz, TranslationDirectory, TranslatorsCafé, and the like are thriving on, just to get an idea.)

It’s an interesting problem in “globalization.” If 1-2 cents/word is decent pay in India, good for them. But when Indian companies are in a position to compete with translators outside of India, who cannot possibly live on rates like that, what’s the ethical response?

Do we tell translators outside of India, “Ah, well, you’re just another unfortunate victim of globalization. Better start looking for another job”?

An additional irony is that the quality of cut-rate Indian translations is so often poor. Hey, but wait. They speak English as a native language in India, don’t they? Well … sort of.

When non-native-English-speaking clients aren’t in a position to judge the quality of the translations they’re getting (and they often are not), they’re happy to buy Hinglish. It’s cheap after all. In all senses of the word.

On the other hand, if you understand that the pair of “made in India” pants that cost you $12 are never going to last beyond one summer (if that), why would you expect your translation to be any better?

.... and then Mahesh went on to pursue a successful career in translation.

... nor the rules of English, for that matter.

Sometimes a thesaurus just isn't enough.